Long term study into forecasting skills (article from the FT)

The FT has published a long article looking at the history of prediction.  What makes it worth reading is that it references the work of Philip Tetlock, who’s research into forecasting categorised people as either foxes or hedgehogs (this is explained in the article).

It’s worth a read:

So what is the secret of looking into the future? Initial results from the Good Judgment Project suggest the following approaches. First, some basic training in probabilistic reasoning helps to produce better forecasts. Second, teams of good forecasters produce better results than good forecasters working alone. Third, actively open-minded people prosper as forecasters.

But the Good Judgment Project also hints at why so many experts are such terrible forecasters. It’s not so much that they lack training, teamwork and open-mindedness – although some of these qualities are in shorter supply than others. It’s that most forecasters aren’t actually seriously and single-mindedly trying to see into the future. If they were, they’d keep score and try to improve their predictions based on past errors. They don’t.

via How to see into the future – FT.com.

Key insights from Singapore Foresight Week 2013

In 2011 the Prime Ministers office in Singapore sponsored a week of foresight conversations.  This year saw the next iteration and I was invited back to the conversation.  Once again there were about twenty of us from around the world that were invited, and the diversity of the conversation was only trumped by the quality.  My notes are in mind-map form, and therefore I’m going to post some images from the event along with some insights and summation.

Firstly – the pictures:

Future of Growth

Graphical recording from the fourth day of the week on the future of growth.

Future of Governance

Graphical recording from the fourth day of the week on the future of governance.

Dave Snowden presenting his framework for foresight and complexity.

Dave Snowden presenting his framework for foresight and complexity.

Insights (in no order)

  • It’s strategically important to have a good imagination and an adaptable mind.
  • Most decision makers want simple answers, and ask the wrong questions.  They want an answer, but in complex environments there may not be a simple answer.
  • there is book called “Future Babble” that looked at previous predictions of the future, and found that the most inaccurate predictions were the ones that were most convinced of their accuracy.
  • the real lack of skills in the world is the lack of generalists
  • The waiting time to purchase a new industrial robot is 4-6 months.
  • People are hard wired to take more notice of failure than success – from an evolutionary point of view it’s more important
  • More insights are on my Twitter feed


To try to summarise the week is to fall into the trap of thinking conversation is a linear process.  The discussions were so varied it’s almost impossible to bring it together, however the most important points for me related to foresight, policy and governance:

The world is becoming increasingly complex, and as a result leaders need to be adept at understanding that decision making can not always be causal.  In order to make good decisions you need firstly to understand the environment you’re working in and Dave Snowden provides guidance here with his framework:

Dave Snowdens Cynefin (kin-are-fin) Framework

If you find yourself on the left hand side of the framework then you need to understand complexity theory, and acknowledge that there may be no right answer.  That’s not easy for decision makers raised to believe that they need to make fast decisions based on minimal information.

I’ll close with a wonderful analogy that was provided in a conversation about the work of Karl Popper: you can begin to understand complexity through the lens of clouds vs clocks.  You can take apart a clock to understand it, but to understand clouds you need to look at many different variables. Clouds cannot be taken apart.

Entering a resource-shock world (article)

Yahoo is carrying a useful article from that makes reference to some very credible resources.  Essentially it points to early signals of the Shell Scenarios ‘chaos’ scenario starting to bear out.  At the risk of descending into industry jargon, this is not good.

In March, for the first time, Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper listed “competition and scarcity involving natural resources” as a national security threat on a par with global terrorism, cyber war and nuclear proliferation.

If you’re remotely interested in a plausible future for where the world is going, then this is a very sobering read that links water and food scarcity to global unrest.

via Entering a resource-shock world – Yahoo! News Maktoob.

Global drivers of change – the opportunity for cities

From the excellent Futures Group in the Singapore Government comes this short video entitled The Age of Turbulence.  It covers off four drivers of change that the team has identified, and the first of these is most relevant for The Sensing City initiative for Christchurch.

To give more context, it references the fact that over the coming decades there will be a huge demand for the development of new Tier 2/3 cities, and that many of these will be financed privately. This in turn will require the development of new technologies, processes and techniques for managing the complexity of cities.  If you’re pushed for time, watch the first few minutes:

Global changes – a view from a CIA veteran

This is a fascinating view of macro scale changes from a very unlikely source – an ex-senior official in the CIA Clandestine Service.  His comments echo some of my recent thinking about the potential impact when social movements meet social media, and the impact upon modern-day governance structures.  Here’s the view of Henry Crumpton (with my emphasis in bold):

The most important change on the global security and business stage is the empowerment of the individual and their ability to have inexpensive, exponential impact through technology and collaboration. This revolutionary development has led to an unprecedented shift in relationships, with a degree of asymmetric power never seen in the history of human conflict or commerce. There are micro actors with macro impact operating on a global landscape and they constantly challenge the status quo, and this trend is accelerating.

via A CIA veteran’s lessons for CEOs – Fortune Management.

Resources for ANZSOG Masterclass attendees

This post is intended for those that attended the Australia and NZ School of Govt Masterclass I held in Wellington on July 24th.

It’s a list of resources that may be of use when thinking about different ways to think about the future, and how to tell your story.  Firstly, here’s a list of organisations that think about the future, and share that thinking:

  • Shell energy scenarios can be accessed here.
  • The Institute for the Future in California publishes a wide range of information, including it’s Maps of the Decade.
  • The team from the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the Singapore Government do some outstanding work and they blog here.
  • The Sustainable Future Institute has a robust and fascinating series of publications that address the future of NZ, and you can access them via the website here.
  • the entire output of Future Agenda (including the book) can be accessed here.

With regards to telling rich stories that resonate, here’s a list of the links I referenced in my presentation:



The Return of Asia

A quick link to something that has been discernible for a a while, and something that was clearly identified when we ran Future Agenda two years ago.  However now the clever (and time rich) analysts at McKinsey has quantified it:

A thousand years ago, the economic centre of the world was in central Asia, just north of India and west of China, reflecting the high levels of wealth enjoyed in the Middle and Far East at that time, says the report, Urban world: Cities and the rise of the consuming class. At that time, Asia accounted for two-thirds of the world’s wealth.

By 1900, the centre had shifted to northern Europe, which had leapt far ahead of the rest of the world thanks to the Industrial Revolution. And by 1950, the centre had shifted to the North Atlantic, reflecting the economic rise of the United States.

But now that trend is reversing itself, and at a stunning speed. What took 1,000 years to travel west will have travelled all the way back east in a matter of a few decades.

According to the McKinsey report, the economic centre of gravity has been shifting east for the past decade at a rate of 140 km (87 miles) per year, and by 2025, it will have returned to a spot in central Asia just north of where it was in 1,000 A.D.

“It is not hyperbole to say we are observing the most significant shift in the earth’s economic centre of gravity in history,”

via World’s Economic Centre Of Gravity Shifting Back To Asia At Unbelievable Speed: McKinsey Institute.

3D printing just got more interesting

Quick update that has implications for distributed manufacturing, supply chains and last, but not least, intellectual property:

The Pirate Bay, announced a new, legitimate direction yesterday: It’s going to host physibles, downloadable models for constructing 3D objects.

 The Pirate Bay’s move into physibles breaks new ground, since 3D printing is territory copyright lawyers have barely begun to fathom.

A “physible” is a digital plan for an object that can either be designed on a computer or uploaded with a 3D scanner. Those plans can be downloaded and used to assemble real, tangible objects using a 3D printer. Printers are getting more affordable, but they’re still limited by the kinds of materials they can use. But that just means it’s the dawn of this technology, and The Pirate Bay is getting in early. “We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare [parts] for your vehicles,” TPB writes on its blog. “You will download your sneakers within 20 years.”

via Forget MP3s: Soon You’ll Download Your Sneakers From The Pirate Bay.